2018 NHL Draft

Mock Draft 1.0: Round 1 (Picks 1-31)

Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is expected to go first overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft (Photo: Aftonbladet)

Steve Kournianos  |  1/17/2018 |  Nashville  |  [hupso]

NASHVILLE (The Draft Analyst) — How is the 2018 NHL draft going to play out? That’s a question that won’t be answered for a few more months. In the meantime, however, we can have some fun in gauging and assessing not only which players will go where, but how each NHL team will attack one of the deepest drafts in recent memory.

Barring any sort of second-half chaos, Rasmus Dahlin — the flashy defender from Sweden whose highlight clips in terms of draft prospects have taken the term “viral” to a whole new level — will be the first overall pick. But that doesn’t mean the remaining 30 teams will walk away empty handed from the 2018 draft. There are at least a dozen defensemen beyond Dahlin who can offer clubs not only top-pairing potential, but can also serve as a cornerstone piece towards building a strong foundation. Additionally, this group of prospects has a good mix of forwards, several with the ability and wherewithal to debut in the NHL almost immediately.

There are several factors to consider as we approach the NHL’s trade deadline, and subsequently, the NHL draft:

First-year eligibles at the WJC: This year’s premier under-20 showcase saw a significant spike in the number of participating draft prospects in their first year of eligibility. One way you can look at it is that national team coaches were willing to sacrifice immediate results by baptizing younger players into the WJC fire. But the reality of their inclusion is that these late-1999 or 2000-born kids most certainly earned their way on their respective teams, and did so by beating out older players. This fact should not go unnoticed by the NHL’s scouting community, who may be less inclined to favor older draft holdovers rather than the young pups with higher ceilings and more impressive pre-draft resumes.

Trade activity involving 2018 draft picks: Trades involving high draft picks (picks between Rounds 1-2)  don’t start heating up until right around late-February’s trade deadline. Thus far, of all the trades made since Opening Night, only one  — the three-way Matt Duchene deal —  included a 2nd rounder or higher. How many 2018 first or second rounders used as trade chips at the deadline is a good indicator of how GM’s and their scouts view the strength of this year’s draft. Granted, some execs are far from married to pre-draft prospects and the desire to “win now” trumps the pleas of his amateur scouting department.

–Dahlin and the Lottery: While I won’t go as far as to say Dahlin will burst onto the NHL scene the way Connor McDavid did in 2015-16, you cannot argue against the pre-draft hype that began surrounding the young Swede early last year. Although I think sniper Andrei Svechnikov eventually will have a star NHL career and put the onus on Dahlin to validate being picked first overall, Rasmus will single-handedly be responsible for the hysteria that reaches a crescendo the day the lottery order is announced, and it is all but guaranteed to have a 2015-like feel to it. And while nobody will ever admit to “tanking”, bet the farm that there already are several NHL teams (you know who you are!) already strategizing how they will market and employ Dahlin as the face of the franchise and the leader on the ice. Thankfully, the current system means there’s a significant chance a current bubble team will win the lottery and throw a lot of pre-draft plans out the window.

–Keep your 2018 picks. You WILL draft a very good player. Maybe two: Based on league production, individual roles on teams, and selection and performance in international tournaments, this draft should provide teams with the opportunity to select game-altering players well into the third round. For example, Player X who was born in 2000 and is 2018-draft eligible is a top scorer on Team Y that is full of 1998 and 1999-born skaters, some who were already drafted. This trend is more prevalent with the 2018 crop than it was with either of the 2016 or 2017 draft classes. If NHL execs and scouts come away with a similar assessment, then they are more likely to go for “Boom or Bust” types early since they have the security of safer picks with similar upside all through Rounds 2-3. On the flip side, a GM can simply trade coveted 2018 picks, knowing with confidence that he can still walk away from the draft with solid prospects from later rounds. The problem with that strategy is that you significantly decrease the likelihood that you draft at least one player with star potential.

Team Pick Player Notes
1 LHD Rasmus Dahlin

Frolunda, SHL

6’2, 181 | 4/13/00

In terms of recent years, only Connor McDavid seemed to have more pre-draft hype than this puck magician, who at 17 is one of the better blueliners in Sweden’s top league and recently was named top defenseman at the under-20 world junior hockey championship. The Coyotes drafting Dahlin is an easy choice, especially if they retain Oliver Ekman-Larsson who could help his fellow countryman transition to the NHL.
2 RW Andrei Svechnikov

Barrie Colts, OHL

6’2, 187 | 3/26/00

The Sabres need a ton of help on the blueline, but in a draft ridiculously deep with puck movers, they use their first pick on the best forward of his class. A elite goal scorer who can dish the puck as well as he can shoot it, Svechnikov has lit up junior leagues in both Europe and North America, and he gives maximum effort in all three zones.
3 LW Filip Zadina

Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL

6’0, 198 | 11/27/99

This season has been nothing short of miserable for the Senators, who last year came within a game of the Stanley Cup Finals. Their popgun offense should improve over time, as they’ve recently collected several elite prospects through the draft. In Zadina, Ottawa would own a fierce competitor whose cerebral approach to every shift and finishing skills would make him a perfect fit in any coach’s system.
4 LW Brady Tkachuk

Boston Univ., Hockey East

6’2, 194 | 9/16/99

Vancouver could be reactionary to Olli Juolevi’s deliberate development and take one of this draft’s elite defenders, but passing on a Tkachuk for the second time in three years is something I don’t see them doing. Much like his brother (and current Calgary Flame) Matt Tkachuk, Brady is a rugged power forward who combines both elite skill and strong hockey sense. Adding him to a forward group that already includes Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson should help towards leveling the balance of power in the Pacific Division.
5 RHD Adam Boqvist

Brynas J20, Superelit

5’11, 170 | 8/15/00

Boqvist would be a candidate for the first overall pick had he not had the misfortune of being born the same year as Rasmus Dahlin. In the long run, however, he should churn out a very productive NHL career. Boqvist is a phenomenal puck rusher with a blistering shot who has proven to be too good for Sweden’s junior circuit. He may need to bulk up before heading over to North America, but Boqvist is one player dynamic enough to share   breakout duties with Connor McDavid.
6 LW Joel Farabee

U.S. U18, NTDP

6’0, 167 | 2/25/00

Detroit has loaded up on defense prospects the last few drafts but lacks a pure playmaking forward. If the organization sticks to its mantra of building a fast, puck-possessing team, then a short trip to nearby Plymouth would reveal exactly the kind of player they should be looking for. Farabee, a swift-skating finesse winger with incredible hands, has done extremely well against all competition he’s faced while playing for Team USA’s under-18 program. His neutral-zone reads of opposing intentions turn seemingly-harmless plays into quality scoring chances.
7 RW Oliver Wahlstrom

U.S. U18, NTDP

6’1, 205 | 6/13/00

Trading Mikhail Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin didn’t offer the immediate results the Habs probably expected, not to mention Sergachev has had an all-star caliber rookie season in Tampa. Nonetheless, if Montreal and GM Marc Bergevin have a desire to upgrade the blue line, they can tackle it in Rounds 2 – 7. Wahlstrom is a tenacious, physical sniper with three-zone reliability who is as big a threat to score while shorthanded as on the power play. 
8 LHD Ty Smith

Spokane Chiefs, WHL

5’11, 176 | 3/24/00

A good question to ask a scout is whether a draft heavy on defense prospects makes the selection process easier or tougher. Although he’s a teenager, Smith is an instant problem solver for any team in that not only is he skilled, mature and trustworthy, but also capable of handling any situation with poise. He’s one of the WHL’s top scorers among defensemen, and 26 of his 43 points have been registered at even strength or shorthanded.
9 C Joe Veleno

Drummondville Voltigeurs

6’1, 195 | 1/13/00

No 2018 draft prospect is being shortchanged or overlooked as much as this fast-moving playmaker, who is one of the QMJHL’s top set-up men at both even strength and on the power play. Veleno is a 200-foot player who anchors Drummondville’s top power play and penalty-killing units, and their special teams have improved exponentially since last month’s trade from Saint John. He’s an excellent skater who can make plays in tight spaces or off the rush.
10 LHD Quinn Hughes

Michigan Wolverines, Big-10

5’10, 170 | 10/14/99

You have to figure the Flyers have seen plenty of this speedy defender, who is one of the NCAA’s top freshmen after starring last season for the U18 NTDP. There aren’t many draft prospects who can skate as well as Hughes, and his ability to run a power play and enter the zone with control is on par with what Dahlin and Boqvist do for their respective clubs. He has an excellent shot and is a consistent threat to go coast to coast.
11 LW Jesperi Kotkaniemi

Porin Assat, SM-Liiga

6’2, 188 | 7/6/00

Canes’ GM Ron Francis has proven he doesn’t go for need in each of the last few drafts, especially in the first round. Carolina may be a bubble team at the NHL level, but their farm system in Charlotte is overflowing with top-end prospects. With that in mind, he dips into the Finnish pool yet again and takes a versatile two-way forward in Kotkaniemi, whose production in Finland’s elite SM-Liiga is equal to what current Hurricane Sebastian Aho did in his first year of draft eligibility back in 2014-15.
12 RHD Bode Wilde

U.S. U18, NTDP

6’2, 195 | 1/24/00

Add Wilde to this of draft-eligible puck rushers who can skate like the wind and create a lot of offense from the back end. Bound for Michigan after de-committing from Harvard, Wilde is a thoroughbred who is at his best when he’s unbridled and allowed to exploit any kind of defense confronting him with his exceptional speed and stickhandling. He’s a bit of a gambler who needs to pick his spots better, but he could offer the Rangers something they haven’t had since Brian Leetch.
13 C Rasmus Kupari

Karpat, SM-Liiga

6’1, 183 | 3/15/00

Kupari has somewhat stayed under the radar after a strong showing in last August’s U18 Ivan Hlinka Tournament, but he remains one of the top playmakers available in 2018. He has good size, excellent hands and can be a force in open ice — things we rarely saw during his limited ice time at the recent under-20 world junior hockey championship. Kupari brings a lot of skill to the table and the Blackhawks are always mining Europe for elite offensive players.
14 RHD Noah Dobson

Acadie-Bathurst Titan, QMJHL

6’3, 178 | 1/7/00

The Av’s have the playoffs on their minds, so there’s always the chance they finish too high in the standings to grab one of the draft’s premier one-on-one defenders. If Colorado goes for a defensemen, they’d be making a wise choice by opting for this monster. Dobson’s size, mobility, physicality and maturity are obvious from the second he hits the ice, but he too has excellent puck skills and the ability to lead an attack either with his wheels or his crisp, accurate stretch passes.
15 C/W Akil Thomas

Niagara Ice Dogs, OHL

5’11, 170 | 1/2/00

The Sharks at this point in the season have neither a second or third-round pick, so making a splash with their first rounder is imperative. Thomas is a dual-purpose forward who can play the role of set-up man or scoring winger, but he’s look really comfortable this season as a pass-first playmaker and power-play specialist. A deft stickhandler, Thomas also has a very good shot and release, plus he’s strong on draws.
16 RHD Evan Bouchard

London Knights, OHL

6’3, 193 | 10/20/99

The Islanders already have a handful of exciting young players in addition to a pair of 2018 first round picks, so they can afford to go for a Best Player Available-type player in Bouchard, a big power-play quarterback who leads all OHL defenders in scoring and recently was named team captain. He essentially carried the Knights when their key players left for the WJC, proving that he’s capable of handling an increase in both role and responsibility.
17 C Barrett Hayton

Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds, OHL

6’1, 191 | 6/9/00

Building up for (and winning) multiple runs to the Stanley Cup Finals can have its drawbacks, beginning with the increased difficulty in either keeping draft picks, or connecting on picks from the later stages of every round. The Pens have a system devoid of skill forward depth, and you have to go all the way back to Jordan Staal in 2006 to find a pick of theirs who produced at least 40 points in an NHL season. Hayton is a step in the right direction, as he’s an excellent playmaker who oozes hockey sense and cerebral play. There’s always the chance they go for broke and go for someone flashier, but a two-way center like Hayton is the perfect building block for a franchise close to a transitional phase.
18 C Benoit-Olivier Groulx

Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL

6’1, 190 | 2/6/00

Center depth is one of several areas Minnesota can address, and Groulx could very well be one of the draft’s most underrated pivots. Playing on a Halifax squad loaded with talent, Groulx is a highly-skilled two-way center with an acute understanding of the game. He’s always summoned to fix problems during any point in the game, and his compete level is off the charts. Not surprising when you consider he’s the son of Benoit Groulx — a former QMJHL head coach and WJC winner in 2015 with Canada before taking the top job with the Tampa Bay Lightning’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse.
19 LHD Jared McIsaac 

Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL

6’1, 193 | 3/27/00

Specimen of a shutdown defender, only this one can skate and chip in on the good side of the red line when the situation necessitates it. McIsaac has the tough job of knowing how and when to distribute the puck to Halifax’s arsenal of playmakers, and in the process sees his personal stats take a hit. But there isn’t a single defender in this draft better at smothering puck carriers than McIsaac, who has quick feet and maintains an incredibly tight gap.
*20 RW Vitaly Kravtsov

Traktor Chelyabinsk, KHL

6’1, 170 | 12/23/99

You don’t hear much about this soft-mitted Russian sniper, who has held his own as a depth player for Traktor Chelyabinsk — a rarity for pre-draft teenagers in the KHL. Kravtsov has the size, speed and lethal shot to make it in today’s up-tempo game, but he keeps you honest with a variety of dekes and dangles that get him closer to the goal. This kid’s hand/eye coordination is ridiculous.
21 RW/C Ryan McLeod

Mississauga Steelheads, OHL

6’2, 205 | 9/21/99

Kill the noise about how this big-bodied speedster was a byproduct of playing on a stacked team. Mississauga is not the powerhouse it once was, but McLeod has done his job as one of the squad’s top set-up men and power-play specialists. The Kings not only favor players with size, but also like to dip into the Ontario Hockey League’s talent pool a ton — almost half the picks from their last seven drafts combined were from the OHL.
22 C Jacob Olofsson

Timra IK, Allsvenskan

6’2, 193 | 2/8/00

The Maple Leafs are not only a playoff team, but they’ve overloaded their farm system by either keeping or stockpiling picks in each of the last three drafts. There’s always the chance they move this pick at the deadline to beef up for a run, but I’d like to think they understand that the 2018 crop is a bit deeper than previous classes. Olofsson is the perfect example of a player who would probably be hovering around the lottery had his first draft year not been loaded with elite defensemen. Big, strong, aggressive, tenacious and equally skilled with the puck on either his forehand or backhand, Olofsson can be used in any situation and has the ability to make slick plays near the net.
23 C/W Milos Roman

Vancouver Giants

6’0, 189 | 11/6/99

The Bruins under GM Don Sweeney sure love going after defensemen and two-way centers. Sweeney — a former defenseman himself — tends to lean towards three-zone players on draft day, so why not continue the trend and nab one of the best 200-foot players available? Make no mistake — Roman is NOT just a checker. He is a key cog on Vancouver’s top line and is one of the leading scorers among WHL rookies. 
24 LHD K’Andre Miller

U.S. U18, NTDP

6’3, 207 | 1/21/00

The Blue Jackets have multiple quality pieces at every level of their organization and have proven to be more than competent when it comes to the draft. Although they may appear set on defense, it won’t set the organization back by grabbing a poised, mature, big-bodied rearguard like Miller, whose stats would be gaudier if the NTDP’s blue line wasn’t overflowing with talent. Bound for Wisconsin in the fall, he has very good mobility for his size, owns a booming shot and is a smothering one-on-one defender.
*25 RW Grigori Denisenko

Loko Yaroslavl, MHL

5’11, 172 | 6/24/00

Barring a trade, this draft should mark the third time in four years in which the Flyers have two first-round picks, and they chose a forward with their second first-rounder in both 2015 (Travis Konecny) and 2017 (Morgan Frost). Denisenko is an offensive dynamo in the mold of Toronto’s William Nylander — an elusive stickhandler and finisher with soft hands and the accuracy of a sharpshooter. He plays the game at a fast pace, but Denisenko likes to get involved physically and doesn’t shy away from the corners.
26 RHD Ryan Merkley

Guelph Storm, OHL

5’11, 163 | 8/14/00

Playing loosey-goosey in your own end rarely is a deal breaker when it comes to elite offensive-minded defensemen, especially when they’re fast and can handle and distribute the puck like a magician. Merkley is a fantastic player with the puck on his stick who still struggles with his responsibilities on his side of the red line.  One of two things will happen if a prospect with star potential like Merkley doesn’t round out his game —  he will either flourish under a system that protects him or struggle with his individual requirements as a defenseman.
27 RHD Calen Addison 

Lethbridge Hurricanes, WHL

5’11, 178 | 5/11/00

Replenishing a prospect pool is equally as important as developing one, and few teams do both as well as the Predators, who are contending for a Cup while concurrently boasting a strong farm system. Trading skilled puck mover (and fan favorite) Samuel Girard to Colorado in the package for Kyle Turris stings, but they can ease the pain by drafting a power-play specialist like Addison, whose 26 assists with the man advantage is the most of any WHL defenseman and second in the entire league.
28 C/W Jack McBain

Toronto Jr. Canadiens, OJHL

6’3, 183 | 1/6/00

Playing in a lesser-known league like the Ontario Junior Hockey League shouldn’t hurt this power forward’s standing among talent evaluators, as he made the personal choice to maintain his NCAA eligibility rather than play major junior — McBain was the 20th overall pick in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection. He’s a hard-hitting center with top-line potential who can also play wing, and this kind of versatility shows when he tailors his game to what is being asked of him. Play him on the wing, and he’ll shoot more. Put him at center and he’ll set up plays and cover holes in his own end. McBain is perfect for a team that plays a heavy game; only he finds a way to combine physicality with skill and precision.
29 C/RW Dmitry Zavgorodny

Rimouski Oceanic, QMJHL

5’9, 171 | 8/11/00

The Capitals have a strong group of defense prospects heading into a draft where they currently have at least one pick in each of the first four rounds for the first time since 2009. They can afford to take a chance on an electrifying talent, and few in this class can rival Zavgorodny when it comes to puck skills. What sets him apart from most undersized forwards is that he’s strong, plays with tenacity, will finish his checks and cause mayhem out on the penalty kill.
30 C Ty Dellandrea

Flint Firebirds, OHL

6’0, 190 | 7/21/00

Intangibles can sometimes be a term used to help cover up a player’s shortcomings with the puck, but the hard-working identity developed by the Golden Knights has proven to be both real and effective. Dellandrea has the misfortune of being a top-line center on a thin team, but he’s a strong two-way center with very good vision and an excellent shot who has legitimate leadership qualities.
31 LHD Alexander Alexeyev

Red Deer Rebels, WHL

6’3, 200 | 11/15/99

You can make the argument that Lightning GM Steve Yzerman has assembled three all-star teams — one in Tampa, another in the AHL with Syracuse, and finally with his remaining prospects still at the junior level. Each one has a strong CHL flavor to it, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise when Yzerman goes back to the WHL and takes this big, smooth-skating rearguard who can quarterback a power play. Alexeyev is similar to Olli Juolevi in that he is very poised with puck and handles pressure effectively.
  • The Ottawa Senators’ first-round pick in the 2018 draft is Top-10 protected and will transfer unprotected to Colorado in 2019, based on the conditions of the Matt Duchene trade.
  • The New York Islanders own Calgary’s 2018 first-round pick as part of the Travis Hamonic trade.
  • The Philadelphia Flyers own St. Louis’s 2018 first-round pick as part of the Brayden Schenn trade.